Let’s give seniors the respect they deserve

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Time to cut the racism against ‘ageism’ and value skills and experience

 Bikram Vohra (BETWEEN THE LINES)

 The lady was pleasant enough on the phone and gave me a lengthy spiel about a loan offer and how it would be ideal for me.I told her I was 68 and there was a momentary silence at the other end after which interest drained out of her voice like water from a bathtub and she said, you don’t qualify. It is only for those less than 60.

Ironically, the next day with pressure on for the welcome umbrella insurance coverage in the emirates and the deadline looming there were three calls from three different companies promising eternal sunshine and bliss all of which turned to thunderous impatience the moment we shared my date of birth.

To a great extent the failure of economic entities to recognise senior citizens as a very lucrative and financially liquid entity is a global one. Stuck in the mental rut that only the young are worthy investment candidates the insurance-banking-fiscal scheme syndicates have largely ignored the older population by seeing them as high risk and not worth taking a chance on.

Perhaps it is time they took a cue from the tourism and aviation industry. Between cruises and group bookings on flights, it is the ‘older’ traveller that has now risen exponentially as a money-spinner for cash-strapped carriers. Carriers have adapted and along with the hospitality sector cater to this segment that has increased tenfold in this century. There are many reasons for this common sense approach.

Those who have just retired have benefit funds and savings they have not used. Their medical condition is far superior than a generation ago and they have good 10 years and another reasonable five before becoming vulnerable to the rigours of age. They are more careful, take lesser risks, are likely to be perfect candidates for medical insurance without the extortionist premiums, be positive investors in schemes that currently preclude them and look for mortgages that are affordable and payable over a 15-year period.

That in some countries they are denied EMI privileges on purchase of loans for cars, homes, even high-end computer systems is indicative of the prejudice against age.

Writing on the issue, author Marlo Sollitto says: Elderly people experience a type of discrimination that’s prevalent, and it has nothing to do with the colour of their skin, religion or socio-economic status.

“What do you expect at your age?” “You’re not getting any younger!” Do these statements sound familiar?” The “old geezer” stereotype is an unjust and prejudicial generalisation that assumes all older adults naturally become weak, sick and forgetful. This is what constitutes “ageism”.

‘Ageism’ is a hostile attitude; at your age should you be dancing? At your age should you wear jeans? Act your age. And it is exactly this mindset that blinds the financial institutions to this segment’s potential.

The fear that old age is a ‘death sentence’ and therefore not valid as a potential and dependable customer is what stops them from seeing over 350 million active senior citizens worldwide as real people not caricatures. The younger workforce sees itself projected on a future screen, feels a sense of profound panic and dismay and that is what creates the word ‘ageism’ as founded by Dr Neil Butler. Consequently, it rejects any plan or programme that factors in logic instead of psychological bias. The still prevalent productivity of the elderly is widely ignored.

People over 60 are a safer bet, have most passion spent, are likely to take better care of themselves and be more honest in terms of paying premiums, clearing debts and maintaining their dignity by not defaulting.

Butler calls it blatant discrimination and though he does not specifically speak of the fiscal system sidelining the elderly, his inference is that as you grow old the belief that you become more inflexible and conservative is untrue.

The cumulative experience of the older generation stands them in good stead. Not only are they likely to be smarter and more selective and demanding of quality, but they are even more sensible in protecting and caring for that precious commodity called life. Studies have shown that behind the wheel the senior citizen is a safer and more careful driver. If you cut through the stereotyping you would discover that those in the age group 60 to 75 years have less road accidents and are more accommodating.

But age is so intimidating that its shadow is enough to make the rest shrink away.

Brokers around the world are chary of anyone over 55.

“For those of you over the age of 50, loan approval is by no means certain even if you go to your friendly neighbourhood bank. You may be required to provide extensive documents and an exit strategy.” So says a brochure for a financial house.

For many people who retire, income on a monthly basis is a problem. If they ask for loan against property and it is granted, it is probably around 40 per cent of the value of the property and Catch 22 kicks in because if you are on a pension the EMI on the loan would probably be higher than the income.

In India, for example, Reverse Mortgage as an option never really caught on because the cap of Rs50 lakh on the loan jeopardised control over a property worth several times that value. In 2015, the UK media brought up the question of lenders refusing those over 65 any sort of collateral but the pressure leaked away and things stayed dormant.

In Marketwatch, Dan Barnabic writes: More than half of today’s households won’t have enough retirement income to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living, even if they work to age 65. Among workers of age 55 and older, nearly 60 per cent have saved less than $100,000 for retirement, and 24 per cent have saved less than $1,000. A recent poll indicated that 57 per cent of current retirees consider an average monthly benefit of around $1,290 their major source of income. This all points to an alarming number of American seniors headed for the poorhouse.as many as 40 million.

This pretty much encapsulates the problem across frontiers. Senior citizens like veterans, are given a great deal of smarmy sweet talk but the reality is a lot grimmer.

Unless ‘ageism’ is seen in the same light as racism and casteism nothing much will change. Bikram Vohra is a former editor of Khaleej Times.

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